Friday, August 24, 2007

From the outside in... or vice versa, I'm not sure

Another hydrogen fueling station opens next month, this time in NY, White Plains to be exact.

What do you think when you hear news like that? Does hydrogen seem too Jetsonesque sometimes? How many times have your heard people speak in multiples of a decade when talking about hydrogen's future? Do you equate this technology with flying cars?

Right now, hydrogen works well as an energy carrier (we can't call it a fuel). We can get it easily (though it takes significant energy to get it right now), the emissions are injestible by a human and the applications are countless (that's a lie, you could actually count them... figure of speech). Hydrogen is easier to store than electricity (though more dangerous in some forms) and can come from biological processes. All these facts together make it viable in a big way.

But does hydrogen work for everyone right now? Hahahaha... NO. Hydrogen works for vehicles that don't need to go more than 100-200 miles before a refill. Hydrogen does not work for applications that need a lot of torque (like, say, the trucking industry as it works right now). Hydrogen and electricity works for stopping and starting, quick trips and indoor applications (think micro-cars in Manhattan). Hydrogen does not work for long distance, energy-expensive transport (as in, this technology is not good for airplanes yet). Fuel cells and electric cars are not for everyone and everything…yet.

What we have been seeing (and, without a doubt, will continue to see) are examples of particular industries and applications coming out of the dark, so to speak, and adopting a piece of the hydrogen infrastructure. Universities and corporations and government agencies build their own filling stations, power them however they can (hopefully in sustainable ways) and use these cars as they need to use them. This is not regulation or coercion or unnecessary compromise. No, these are examples of early-adopters realizing the future on a very small scale.

Maybe a business entity decides they need 10 cars to run errands in a 15 mile range. Looking at their options, they can buy ten Kias at, say, $11K a piece, issue gas cards to the drivers and monitor gas expenditures. Or, they can accept a higher price of entry to build, say, solar collectors (on the roof?) and never pay for fuel generated. Buy 10 ZENN electric vehicles at $12.5K a piece and enjoy being free from both vacillating gas prices and heavy air quality impact from traffic driving. The freedom of transportation choice is finally reality and the barriers to entry are getting smaller; in some cases, it is more cost effective to go green.

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